Friday, 28 January 2011

Almost there

There are three more days left of the shooting season. We have 53 shoot days under our belt. I think we are going to make it. Just.

As with every harvest, we're at the mercy of that which we're harvesting. And the weather. And our need for sleep. And of course there are setbacks, illnesses and injuries and such.

Harvest first: the pheasants and partridge have been staying put so we can find them on shoot days. They have flown well, but by the end of January they're canny. If they have avoided being em...harvested, it's because they've found a back door. This month I've watched as many pheasants sneak out of a drive as fly over the gun line, and I've cheered those resourceful little birds. Pretty soon we'll be picking up those hens' eggs and smiling at the cock birds fighting in the middle of the road, oblivious to my oncoming truck.

The weather is more bearable when it's cold, because the mud freezes and the house stays marginally cleaner. There are no rubber trousers hanging from doors waiting to ambush you when you get up at the crack of stupid o'clock to make a cup of tea. However, we confine ourselves to two rooms: the tiny galley kitchen and just slightly-less-tiny front room. The floors are wipeable and the wood stove keeps both rooms warm enough that I only need to wear two layers and long socks indoors. And the stove dries our clothes and keeps the labs up to temperature -

By this time of year we're so tired that we've slipped into a near feral state. The house smells of labrador, and the bathtub has a permanent layer of scum from the spaniels' after-work hosedowns. We just throw dry towels on the couch and let the dogs have the run of the place. Pip has taken my work shirt and a pillow and made a "nest" in her favorite chair -

I just wear what's clean, or whatever a dog isn't sleeping on. I peel off my camo overalls and hang them from the china cupboard in the kitchen, until next time I head out into the cold to hunt or check livestock -

Eudora's still doing great by the way.

The kitchen table is buried under reference books, clean dog towels, cartridges, ear defenders, and clothes that the dogs haven't stolen yet -


We don't need it to eat dinner on. We haven't been shopping for a while and this is pretty much all that's in the fridge -

Condiments, a dessicated lime from Christmas, some questionable eggs I found in the hedge, and animal medication. We've been eating at our local pub, run by Rich and Mary who are two of the nicest people you could ever meet. It's kind of like eating local as we supply them with meat, and even holly to garnish their customers' puddings. And it's far more hygienic than our house. They supply the good cooking and the great conversation. It's a great way to unwind after a shoot day, with the bonus of no dishes to wash up, and they don't mind if we show up in our tweeds, blood spatters, trailing feathers, and all.

Before the shooting season ends, we wanted to make sure that our own freezers were well-stocked. Eventually we would have to go back to cooking our own food. The past three nights, after shoot days, Underkeeper Pete and I have been walking up the hedgerows and copses, looking for game birds.

The first night I shot my first ever teal and Pete shot a woodcock. The second night we missed everything. The third evening we started out earlier (and I remembered my camera) and we shot straight. Well, Pete did anyway. We had 8 pheasants, only one of which was mine -

What I lacked in volume I made up for in variety, bagging a woodcock and a pigeon on a walk through some boggy woodland -

They're hanging now, and will be ready to turn into a game pie (with my one pheasant) by the end of shoot season. I did manage a bit of home curing too, and used the rest of the bacon cure to corn a venison loin -

It turned out better than I expected considering I didn't have a recipe and I wasn't sure if the chemistry would work. It's a bit salty on the ends. I've fried it with eggs for breakfast and used small pieces as rewards for the dogs on shoot days.

Lily the chocolate lab has earned her share of the venison. I brought her along on the past two days' shoots, to accompany the other dogs and see what she made of the noises and smells. Lily has excelled herself. She hunts and retrieves already, with nothing more than instinct to drive her. I think she's happier being a working dog than a pet. I think everything is happier when it has a purpose, people and dogs topping that list.

And I needed her. Jazz is tired, Podge is struggling to hold her weight, Spud has come into season, Pip can only work twice a week max due to her weak hips, and Dulcie is still recovering from her operation. If only I could teach sheep to retrieve.


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Holy cow. I'm tired just reading this. In three days, I hope you get a really good night's sleep, followed by a day doing absolutely nothing. When you get truly exhausted, remember that part about being happier when you have a purpose. I'm pretty damn impressed with the purpose you and Mike have chosen.

I'm glad your shoot's going well, Eudora is recovering, and Lily is showing her mettle.

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

What do you do with all that you harvest? Do you then sell the pheasant etc? I am very curious as to how your operation works... maybe I should just check out your earlier posts.

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

What a busy time! When it's hunting season here, we sometimes feed the dogs cottage cheese on top of Hi-Pro dog food. Seems to help with keeping the weight on. Might help Podge. I also understand the clean house thing. It's funny, the cleanliness of my home is totally related to how much work fills my day, out side the house. Hope you can take a breather once it's all over.

Paula said...

The bacon-wrapped venison looks wonderful!

We hadn't heard from you in awhile and I figured that you were up to your hedges in hedges. What a good thing to have a local place to eat- sounds almost blissful. I love being able to duck in somewhere familiar when I'm too tired to think about dinner, much less make it.

Are you sure you're going to be able to give up Lily when the time comes? She sounds like a swell girl.

Jenny D said...

Keep going, we're all rooting for you both - and
enjoy a very well earned rest, when it happens.

And yes, Paula's right, Lily does sound like a swell girl!!

Poppy Cottage said...

I always take my hat off to you. Your Lily looks very much like she is at home at yours.

Jasper was trying to get hold of you or Mike to ask about work experience - school, I gave him your Mobile no, hope that was OK. Another question. PLEASE , when you have a little more time (???) would you help me train my Lil? I think you are right, she'd be much happier with a 'job', and I don't really know where to start. Bit like I am with the J's!!!!


Kate said...

I second the venison looking awesome. Nice job! It's so odd to think of this being your busy time of year, or perhaps *one* of your busy times of year. I'm mostly sitting around losing my calluses and getting pudgy. I love your drying rack above your woodstove. I think I saw something like that in the Victorian Farm show on youtube. I'd love it if sometime you'd like to give some detail about that. It seems like a handy thing for drying indoors in the winter, and I've never seen anything like it in the States.

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - I never feel busy since reading 'The Bucolic Plague'. Those two guys held down major jobs, started a business and rebuilt a farm. But I am looking forward to a haircut at an actual salon - smelly shampoos, chat magazines, massage chairs, the whole works. But thanks for the support, as always.

HKS - The estate pheasants & partridge, the ones shot on a shoot day, get put in a huge chiller and collected by the game dealer. They're checked by a vet to be sure they're suitable for the food chain then mostly exported to Europe where a lot of game is eaten. In a busy week we might provide the game dealer 1000+ birds.

Any pheasants or game birds like ducks which I shoot, only a few here and there, are part fo the perks of the job. I put them in our freezer and feed us through the year.

Ditto the deer, though I have some land outside the estate where I harvest deer (It's a private cider orchard and the deer eat the trees). Some go in our freezer, some go to the landowner, and the rest are bought by the game dealer. I probably harvest up to 20 deer a year.

I hope that helps gives you a better picture. I'm not sure I always do a thorough job explaining it so I'm glad when people ask.

Jennifer Montero said...

Karen - I'll take your advice and try the cottage cheese with Podge. They're all so different with regards to how well they hold their weight. We feed them all the same complete food and then supplement individual requirements. Thanks for the tip!

Paula - Thanks for the kind thoughts and for keeping my spirits up.

The venison isn't bacon wrapped, that's just the fat layer. That's the bonus of butchering your own, you can keep all the fat if you wish to. Maybe not the healthiest, but it is really delicious.

I'm sure I'll miss Lily but the nice thing is that she's just down the road, and her owner will leave her in our care pretty regularly. And we can take her out and work her on shoot days if we need an extra dog, so that benefits everyone especially Lily.

If you lived closer, I think I would be sending some of these foster dogs your way!

Jennifer Montero said...

Jenny - I'm lookng forward to catching up on my blog reading witht Lily sleeping on my feet.

Colette - You know what labs are like, feed them and pat them and they'll love you forever.

I'm afraid all our work experience places are already filled, for school and game keeping students :-(

And I'm no training expert (in fact I go to trainers myself) but if there's something you're stuck on I can give you a perspective. Or you're welcome to come to our small Sunday training sessions in Waytown (only £5 per session).

Hope Lily is feeling well, post-motherhood. How you didn't keep all those must have great self-control.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate - I saw the dryer in the Victorian Farm program too. They are pretty common. Mike calls it a Lazy Susie, but I'm sure I've seen them for sale in the US in something like The Vermont Country Store magazine under Victorian Dryer, or drying rack. They are de rigeur if you have an Aga or range stove, but they work great over a wood stove too.

If you don't have any luck finding one, and you want to make one, I can email you up close photos. It's very straightforward.

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Goodness, Jennifer! Quite the wild harvest. As others have said, the venison looks amazing...

17th stitch said...

I'm a regular reader who's delurking to say... I love the mental image of a sheep retrieving a pheasant.

Jennifer Montero said...

17th stitch - we're glad you de-lurked to comment. Since you did I will admit that, as shamefully insane as it sounds, I have looked at the sheep and wondered if I could teach one to beat (i.e. walk through the crops moving pheasants). I think I could find the right motivation to encourage the sheep, but I don't think it would add any quality to its life.

The more one contemplates it, the less strange it seems. And that way lies madness.

Jennifer Montero said...

Tovar - I have just been reading an short article on the rituals that lots of European hunters still perform after a shoot day, out of respect for the quarry - singing, laying out the animals and giving thanks, placing boughs of leaves in their mouths as a final meal - and I thought it might interest you.

For German and Belgian teams, we still lay all their game out for them at the end of the day, so they can say thanks in their way (with alcohol usually!)

Tovar@AMindfulCarnivore said...

Yes, I would be interested in seeing that article. Do you have a link to it?

Paula said...

Jen- I would so take fosters off your hands. My sister fosters GSPs, none of whom work, by which I mean they are all pets and not working dogs (which is too bad for them- they're supposed to be great gun dogs).

Kate should know that I bought one of those clothes dryers, and it's hanging up in my kitchen on the non-working side of a two-sided fireplace, the business side of which is now housing a wood stove. (see picture of it working at ) I did a lot of research into that beast and finally bought it directly from this place in England because even with the exchange rate and the shipping, I was going to save nearly fifty dollars over ordering it from some outfit stateside: I hope this is what she wanted...

Jennifer Montero said...

Tovar - I read a paper copy and can't seem to find an online version. But if you want to email me a postal address, I'd be happy to send you the article and some of our weekly shooting magazines, with the current debate raging (and I mean raging) about lead ammo for waterfowl.

Paula - I knew someone would know how to get hold of one of those dryer things. I'll pass the info onto Kate. How do you like yours? My tip for you: if you spray a wet washcloth with rosewater and hang it on the airer to dry, it releases its fragrances which covers up dog (and husband) smells.

Kate said...

Jennifer and Paula, thanks for the head's up on those drying racks. I really love them. But as of yet I have no real use for them. Our heat is radiant heat flooring - a very diffuse, ambient sort of heat. If things go well, we may eventually have a small woodstove for auxilliary heat. I'll definitely keep the concept in mind if that materializes. I'd be likely to hack my own rather than shell out for the ready made type, unless it proved to be a lot less costly than I suspect. Thanks for the info!